TUE AM News: State Director of Opioid Initiatives says efforts ‘creating positive change’; All but two counties reach ‘low’ COVID-19 levels

— As Wisconsin is set to start receiving its share of national opioid settlement funds in April, state Director of Opioid Initiatives Paul Krupski says the state needs to double down on its efforts to fight the opioid epidemic.

“We’re confident that the data pre-pandemic showed us that the steps and the actions we’re taking in Wisconsin are creating positive change,” he said yesterday during a WisconsinEye interview. “If we stay the course, we continue to invest in those strategies … We can get pointed in the right direction again.” 

Wisconsin is expected to get about $400 million from the $26 billion settlement with opioid makers and distributors, though Krupski said the exact amount is still uncertain. Thirty percent of the funds will go to the state for efforts to address and prevent abuse of opioids, while the other 70 percent will be divided among local governments, according to a state Department of Justice release. 

While the state saw an increase in the number of opioid deaths and overdoses during the pandemic, in line with the national trend, Krupski noted Wisconsin had been starting to see improvements in these figures before COVID-19 reached the state. 

“The positive is that, we look at pre-pandemic, we were beginning to see positive outcomes and positive change here in Wisconsin,” he said. “We saw our first significant decrease in opioid-related deaths, and we had seen multiple years of decreasing opioid-related hospitalizations.” 

But according to CDC data highlighted by WisconsinEye, opioid deaths in the state increased 12 percent between 2020 and 2021, setting a new record at 21.1 deaths per 100,000 population. 

Although Krupski said “no part of the state” is untouched by the opioid epidemic, more deaths and overdoses have been seen in southeastern and south-central Wisconsin. But on a statewide basis, the emergence of fentanyl has led to more suspected overdoses deaths with multiple substances including this powerful opioid, he added. 

The Department of Health Services held a dozen listening sessions earlier this year on how the state should use its settlement funds, and Krupski said over 500 people took part. The agency also got feedback through surveys from 325 submissions. 

“What we’re doing already is along the lines of what people want to see, and that is really invest across the continuum of care, so in prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery,” he said. 

Krupski also pointed to the need for more prevention efforts in K-12 education, as well as more treatment availability and support for housing. 

“We know that when we talk about social determinants of health, safe and stable housing for anyone struggling with substance use is so important, so definitely need to look at more ways we can impact housing,” he said. 

At the same time, while more treatment options exist in urban areas, Krupski said available services fail to meet the needs of residents. And he said rural areas face their own access issues, as residents may need to drive a long way to find treatment providers. 

Watch a video of the interview here: https://wiseye.org/2022/03/21/newsmakers-tackling-wisconsins-opioid-crisis/ 

See more details on the settlement funds: https://www.doj.state.wi.us/news-releases/drug-distributors-and-johnson-johnson-commit-26-billion-opioid-agreement 

— All but two Wisconsin counties are now in the “low” community levels category for COVID-19, a CDC site shows. 

Under the federal agency’s latest prevention guidelines, wearing a mask in public indoor areas is only recommended under the “high” category for virus activity. 

As of March 17, when the site was last updated, just Barron and Rusk counties were in the “medium” category. Under this designation, those who are immunocompromised or otherwise at high risk for severe illness are urged to discuss with their health care provider whether they should wear a mask or take other precautions. 

At the national level, only several dozen counties remain in the “high” category, including clusters in Montana, Oklahoma and Kentucky. 

Meanwhile, COVID-19 vaccination progress in Wisconsin has largely stalled, though other indicators show continued improvement. 

The Department of Health Services site shows 64.1 percent of state residents have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 60.6 percent have completed the vaccine series. And 33.3 percent have received an additional or booster dose. 

The latest seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases is 350 cases per day, while the seven-day average for deaths is at nine deaths per day, DHS reports. Both of those numbers have declined from recent peaks in January. 

And the percent positivity rate for COVID-19 tests has reached 2.8 percent, well below the recent peak of 29.5 percent, the site shows. 

At the same time, COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state have also been falling after peaking in January. A total of 224 patients in Wisconsin are currently hospitalized with the virus, including 43 intensive care patients, the Wisconsin Hospital Association site shows. 

<i>For more of the most relevant news on COVID-19, reports on groundbreaking health research in Wisconsin, links to top stories and more, sign up today for the free daily Health Care Report from WisPolitics.com and WisBusiness.com.</i>

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— Dem lawmakers have reintroduced their Economic Justice Bill of Rights they say will help address the state’s workforce shortage and improve Wisconsinites’ quality of life.

Rep. Kristina Shelton, D-Green Bay, said the measure would create an equitable living income, union collective bargaining rights, environmentally friendly transportation and affordable, accessible and high quality health care. The plan also calls for affordable and accessible public education, child care and other things. Shelton said Dems will continue fighting “like hell” to accomplish those goals despite the current legislative recess.

“We are done being told that demanding the seemingly impossible is beyond our reach,” she said. “And so together we’re going to visibly fight like hell with every act that we take for the economic security for all Wisconsinites and against reactionary right wing attacks to dismantle the most basic human rights of all who live in our state, but especially from those in our most marginalized communities.”

While the Legislature has already recessed for the session, Rep. Francesca Hong, D-Madison, said Dems are sending a message about what they want to get done.

See more at WisPolitics.com: https://www.wispolitics.com/2022/mon-pm-update-dem-lawmakers-reintroduce-economic-justice-bill-of-rights/ 

— Gov. Tony Evers announced more than $86 million in American Rescue Plan Act grant funding to help vulnerable small businesses financially recover from the pandemic.

“By supporting local businesses and entrepreneurs, these grant programs will ensure job growth, stronger communities and a brighter, more equitable future for Wisconsin,” the guv said.

The grants allocate $57.6 million through the Diverse Business Assistance Grant Program. They will go toward 24 chambers of commerce and nonprofits in the state to help them provide assistance to small businesses including coaching and mentoring, financial aid, financial literacy support, networking and educational opportunities and more.

The funds also include $28.8 million for nine Community Development Financial Institutions under the Diverse Business Investment Grant Program. The grant money will allow CFDIs to provide support by lending and providing access to capital and credit and through support programs to help small businesses grow.

Republican leadership did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

See the release:

— DATCP Secretary Randy Romanski is calling for state residents to buy local farm products. 

“Wisconsin agriculture has and continues to be a part of our state’s heritage and has so much to offer to our future,” he wrote in his National Ag Day message. “I encourage you, today and every day, to find opportunities to support our state’s agriculture industry, including purchasing local, Wisconsin-made products and learning more about where your food comes from.” 

He notes Wisconsin ranks in the top five U.S. states for the production of at least 17 commodities while producing nearly 60 percent of the nation’s cranberries and more than 25 percent of its snap beans, dry whey for human consumption, cheese and mink pelts. The state exported more than $3.96 billion in ag products in 2021, he said. 

See his full message here: https://datcp.wi.gov/Pages/News_Media/NationalAgDayCelebrateWisconsinAgriculture.aspx 

— Marquette University is touting survey results showing 94 percent of its latest bachelor’s degree recipients are either employed full-time, enrolled in a graduate or professional school, in a service program or are active military members. 

A release from Marquette shows 1,400 of the 1,905 graduates between December 2020 and June 2021 completed the Undergraduate First-Destination Survey. 

Of that number, 66 percent reported being employed full-time by the survey date, marking an 11 percent increase over the report from 2020 and a five-year high. According to the release, 2020’s figure had been “in line with previous years” despite the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, 25 percent of respondents said they were enrolled in a graduate or professional program, while 1 percent reported joining a service program and 1 percent said they went to the military. 

About 52 percent of graduates said they’re living in the state, while 25 percent said they’re in Illinois, the release shows. 

See the report: https://www.wispolitics.com/2022/marquette-university-class-of-2021-reports-94-full-time-employment-graduate-school-or-other-service-position/ 

— Milwaukee tourism officials estimated some 18,000 fans were in town this past weekend for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, bringing with it an estimated $6.5 million in economic impact.

Yet officials say it will take several years for the state’s tourism and hospitality industry to fully recover from the pandemic.

“Tourism and economics is telling us we’re not going to see a full recovery in terms of our hotel industry until 2024,” Leslie Johnson with VISIT Milwaukee said on WISN’s “UpFront,” which is produced in partnership with WisPolitics.com. “So the more events we can have like this will just help us get there faster and same thing throughout the rest of the state.”

Tourism officials from across the state met this past week for the Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

See more from the show: https://www.wisn.com/upfront


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https://www.wisbusiness.com/press-releases/ </i>

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